The first time I played DC Universe Online during its beta period I gave up on it after only a half hour of play. The game’s console-focused interface has a targeting system that resembles a kung fu monk trying to blind fight while wearing roller skates. You don’t so much aim as merely suggest your attack’s direction and target – and hope that you hit something other than yourself. After a half hour of flailing around in a very NON-heroic fashion I gave up, logged out, and uninstalled the game. I wasn’t about to pay $14.99 a month to feel like Die Fledermaus’ near-sighted and even more ineffectual younger brother.
But fast-forward a year later in which DCUO – like so many other MMO’s – has gone free-to-play, and where my tolerance for bad online games has been polished to a high sheen. I decided to give the world of Gotham and Metropolis another try.My second attempt at DCUO was no less awkward than the first, but this time I decided that I wasn’t going to care. “OK game. You want me to mash buttons like a 3 year old? I can do that!” I button-mashed my way through the starter area and the first couple of missions before realizing that I was actually having fun. Sure, the interface is clunky, confusing and unnecessarily obtuse, and the missions’ storylines are hanging out in the deep end of the cartoon absurdity pool, but there is something genuinely cathartic about pummeling bad guys with wanton abandon and having Wonder Woman tell you just how special you really are. Who needs therapy when you can save the world on a regular basis?
If only your innate super powers came with built-in GPS. Or heck, even a compass.
DCUO’s navigation is not for the directionally challenged. The game’s missions routinely take the player between the two main map areas of Metropolis and Gotham City. These two regions are large but not excessively difficult to traverse, especially since the game provides your hero with a travel superpower from the moment of creation. The problem lies in the fact that they are not directly connected to each other, and the game conveniently forgets to tell you this. I spent at least 20 minutes flying from one end of Metropolis to the other, trying to find the door marked “Gotham City -> This Way”. If it hadn’t been for the oddly misnomic “ADanger” who took pity upon me and gave me a walking (okay – flying) tour of the Escher-esque Watchtower (which connects the two areas) I’d probably still be out there somewhere. Flying in circles like a crop duster.
Despite the consolitis and all of its associated shortcomings, DCUO can be an enjoyable diversion. The art design is colorful and vibrant without the cell-shading and black outline that I found so unappealing in Champions Online. And as goofy as the mission premises can get, their execution never felt as repetitive and monotonous as those in City of Heroes/Villians. Although I understand why SOE made this game dual-platform, I think doing so was an injustice no superhero should endure.
Tags: DC Universe Online